The Non-GMO Corn Movement In Kentucky Bourbon

The Non-GMO Corn Movement In Kentucky Bourbon

One of the driving forces behind the bourbon boom is the drive toward authenticity.  The farm-to-fork movement has moved into spirits, and consumers want something that was produced by human hands with grains grown near the distillery.  Maker’s Mark still uses grains produced in their county, and most Kentucky bourbon distilleries go out of their way to purchase grains grown within our state.

That said, there just aren’t enough grains grown in the entire state to support the bourbon industry, so they often have to get grains from other states to fulfill demand.  But there are at least three distilleries that I’ve found that use 100% non-GMO corn in their various whiskeys: Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace.

Wild Turkey whiskey warehouse

Wild Turkey whiskey aging in its oldest warehouse. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

The strange thing about the GMO issue is that none of these distilleries really goes out of their way to advertise the fact they use non-GMO corn in their whiskeys.  The only mention I could find, for example, on Wild Turkey’s website was a year-old press release about Jimmy Russell’s 60th anniversary.

Buffalo Trace has one line at the bottom of their product pages: “whiskeys distilled using 100% non-GMO corn.”  And I couldn’t find a single mention on the Four Roses website.  I’ve heard representatives from all these distilleries mention the use of non-GMO corn multiple times, but they don’t seem to be advertising it otherwise.

“Candidly, I think this has been a missing in our marketing communications over the past couple years,” said Andrew Floor, VP of Marketing of Dark Spirits for Campari America, Wild Turkey’s parent company.  “But we are looking to rectify that, as the non-GMO conversation is one that people care about. We have included that message in some of our social postings over the past 12 months and the reactions have been some of the strongest we’ve seen, so consumers obviously clearly care about what goes into the products they’re putting in their bodies.

“We’re definitely going to elevate that message in the coming months, it’s something we’re proud of and something else that sets us apart from other bourbon makers.”

Do you want to know more about brands that don’t use GMOs in their bourbons?  Tweet me @LouGirl502!

About the author

Maggie Kimberl

One night during Derby week, I was working in the liquor store while Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge was doing a tasting. I kept trying to make my way over to talk to him, but we were super busy (did I mention it was Derby week?) and I didn't make it in time. Dejected, I went back to the break room and started eating my lunch. The next thing I knew, Rutledge came through the door, saying, "You didn't get to do my tasting!" He sat down and explained how to taste bourbon, the ten recipes of Four Roses, and how it was different than other distilleries. I had liked bourbon before that point, but Jim Rutledge made me care about it. That's the beautiful thing about the bourbon industry- the people love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Now here we are. :)

  • TheLight

    I don’t think they are ever going to mention it on the labels because it might get them into legal trouble. They would be implying that non-GMO corn is in some way better than GMO corn and without solid proof of that, GMO corn growers would have grounds to sue them. They would have to gather reams and reams of evidence to support their use of non-GMO to bring to court before they started promoting the fact. They would be handicapped from the get go because the federal government holds the position that GMO corn is not substantially different from non-GMO. They would also be fighting the biotech industry that produces the GMO seed in addition to the growers. It could be a legal battle that goes on for years and ends up driving them to bankruptcy if they try to see it through to the end.

    • Frank Cannon

      That would be impossible since the USDA is coming out with the new labeling non-gmo laws. Why would they be in trouble for something the government approves them of doing ?

      • suzn123

        But if the Idiot Government passes the TPP act, then States that already passed labeling GMO’s would not be able too!!

    • suzn123

      People already promote No
      in GMO on foods, what’s the difference?

    • Robert

      Sadly, rather than focusing on creating a better product, I suppose there is some truth to the fact that distillers face legal battles in all parts of their business. However, for the grower and the distiller, GMOs are a lose-lose proposition,with superweeds, they now need 3x the herbicide they used to, for a lower quality product. Maybe that is fine for your subsidized ethanol, such that without massive government subsidies, GMO is a total failure. But the real issue with GMOs are now finally being understood, despite the massive disinformation campaign:

    • Barbara Tucky

      A bill passed in 2015 where GMO labels were no longer obligatory. The Koch brothers have been lobbying for years to get rid of it to the tune of large chunks of change. However, you can find products in grocery stores with the non-GMO label on them by distributer choice. If lawsuits were a problem then all non-GMO labelled products would be susceptible. Netflix has an interesting documentary GMO OMG. Stick with it, the references to Round-up are interesting and people should be aware.

  • Lynn McNutt

    One point of using non – GMO corn in bourbon making is that most GMO corn has been modified to produce corn with more sugar in it. So, if they used GMO corn they would have to devise a whole new recipe!

  • It might be a marketing label, but since GM corn has never been shown to be harmful, it might be an argument they don’t want to get into.

    • Moz Wright

      A sweeping statement that is not proven true, this from

      US National Library of Medicine
      National Institutes of Health ( )

      Toxicity studies of genetically modified plants: a review of the published literature.According to the information reported by the WHO, the genetically
      modified (GM) products that are currently on the international market
      have all passed risk assessments conducted by national authorities.
      These assessments have not indicated any risk to human health. In spite
      of this clear statement, it is quite amazing to note that the review
      articles published in international scientific journals during the
      current decade did not find, or the number was particularly small,
      references concerning human and animal toxicological/health risks
      studies on GM foods. In this paper, the scientific information
      concerning the potential toxicity of GM/transgenic plants using the
      Medline database is reviewed. Studies about the safety of the potential
      use of potatoes, corn, soybeans, rice, cucumber, tomatoes, sweet pepper,
      peas, and canola plants for food and feed were included. The number of
      references was surprisingly limited. Moreover, most published studies
      were not performed by the biotechnology companies that produce these
      products. This review can be concluded raising the following question:
      where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are
      toxicologically safe? I repeat ”

      where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are
      toxicologically safe?”

      Three precedent-setting studies on GMO toxicity1. Research from Canada has successfully identified toxic GMO pesticides in maternal and fetal blood, including Monsanto’s Bt toxin used in corn. The study is published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. This study uses blood samples from 38 pregnant women and 30 non-pregnant women and points out how susceptible the fetus really is to the adverse affects of foreign chemicals that are not naturally produced (GMO/insecticide/pesticide).

      The results provide baseline data for future studies exploring new areas of research relating to nutrition, toxicology and reproduction in women. This study is a “cornerstone in the advancement of research in this area.”

      Learn more from Collective-Evolution, a great resource:

      Pesticide inside gluten infects 18 million Americans — it’s not just
      an “intolerance.” A new study links GMOs to gluten disorders and comes
      to you via the US Department of Agriculture and the EPA, released
      by the one and only Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), who
      really looks out for human health on this planet. You will be wise to
      review this one.

      The authors relate GM foods to five conditions that trigger or exacerbate gluten-related disorders, including autoimmune disorder, America’s favorite sick care “catapult.” In fact, imbalanced gut bacteria is where it all begins, and the study delves into intestinal permeability, allergic responses and impaired digestion.

      IRT is a world leader in educating policy makers and the public about GMO food and crop concerns. Keep reading.

      GM corn and rat tumors linked! Rats and fruit flies and bees, oh my!
      They’re all dying from pesticides and insecticides when given to them as
      food, or sprayed on their food, or grown into their food using
      biotechnology gene mutation manipulation. How strange that animals
      should die when they eat chemicals. Just a couple of years ago, the
      journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology published a research paper called “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.” [emphases added]
      Or how about this one……. The claims that ‘There is no difference between GMO corn and
      NON Gmo corn’ are false,” says Honeycutt, who adds she was
      “floored” after reading the study.

      According to the analysis, GMO corn tested by Profit Pro
      contains a number of elements absent from traditional cord,
      including chlorides, formaldehyde and glyphosate. While those
      elements don’t appear naturally in corn, they were present in GMO
      samples to the tune of 60 ppm, 200pm and 13 ppm, respectively.

      Honecutt says that the United States Environmental Protection
      Agency (FDA) mandates that the level of glyphosate in American
      drinking water not exceed 0.7 ppm and adds that organ damage in
      some animals has been linked to glyphosate exposure exceeding 0.1

      “Glyphosate is a strong organic phosphate chelator that
      immobilizes positively charged minerals such as manganese, cobalt,
      iron, zinc [and] copper,” Dr. Don Huber attested during a
      separate GMO study recently released, adding that those elements
      “are essential for normal physiological functions in soils,
      plants and animals.”

      “Glyphosate draws out the vital nutrients of living things
      and GMO corn is covered with it,” adds Honeycutt, who notes
      that the nutritional benefits rampant in natural corn are almost
      entirely removed from lab-made seeds: in the samples used during
      the study, non-GMO corn is alleged to have 437-times the amount of
      calcium in genetically modified versions, and 56- and 7-times the
      level of magnesium and manganese, respectively.

      Also at

      Evidence of GMO toxin absorption and toxicity
      By E. Hector Corsi May 9, 2012 in Health

      Lab and clinical research shows that toxins from
      Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are absorbed by humans. Pregnant
      women and their fetuses had detectable levels of the toxins in their
      blood. Lab research shows toxic effects on human kidney cells.
      Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a natural
      insecticide that produces a toxin called Cry1Ab protein. This protein
      is produced by some corn crops that have undergone genetic modification
      to produce GMO products.

      A new lab study has shown that the Cry1Ab toxin causes cell death in
      human embryonic kidney cells, and that combining Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac
      toxins with the effects of the pesticide Roundup, could delay
      apoptosis, which could promote cancer. Some corn crops are made
      resistant to pesticides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in
      Roundup, by genetic modification, and this study also showed that this
      pesticide on its own causes necrosis (tissue destruction) in doses lower
      than those used in agriculture. The study was conducted by Gilles-Eric
      Séralini of the University of Caen, France, and colleagues and
      published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

      Recent research has also shown that Cry1Ab protein is detectable in the
      blood of pregnant women, their fetuses, and also in non pregnant women.
      Glyphosate was also detected in non pregnant women. This study was
      published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology.

      Further evidence of the toxic effects of genetically modified Bt plants, which produce Bt toxins, was recently shown by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe. This study showed that Cry1Ab toxin fed to A. bipunctata (ladybeetle)larvae increases their mortality.

      These research findings show that GMO products contain toxins that can
      be absorbed by humans, and that they may cause serious side effects.
      ical research shows that toxins from
      Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are absorbed by humans. Pregnant
      women and their fetuses had detectable levels of the toxins in their
      blood. Lab research shows toxic effects on human kidney cells.
      So lack of research to support your claims and ample research that shows the toxicity of these “Franken foods” in but a few minutes looking. Makes you sound either the shill for big agro-pharma or considerably unaware.

      • Danyell Rollf